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Home > Church Family > Sermon Summaries > 3 Nov 2001, Dr Rob McIver - Tithing > Does it Make Sense to Centralise Tithe? (Record, September 8, 2001)

Does it Make Sense to Centralise Tithe?

Record, September 8, 2001 - Dr Robert McIver & Stephen J Currow

It is question B2 of our survey that has caused most discussion in the two research groups with which we are working.1  It asked: "In the last 12 months I have given tithe to (tick all that apply)"  which is followed by a number of choices.  This question has revealed that a significant number of church members are directing tithe to places other than the Church tithe-envelopes.  This is a marked departure from what the Church recommends.  So, it is probably time to examine again the question, "Does it still make sense to centralize tithe at the Conference level of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?"

Where Are Church Members Directing Their Tithe?

We are still in the process of gathering surveys, but it is unlikely that the trend shown by the first 1119 surveys entered into the data base will vary much.  These surveys yielded 1028 answers to question B2.  They were distributed as follows (multiple responses were given in many cases):

|   

 

All

<50

>= 50

Tithe envelope

680 (66%)

359 (60%)

321 (75%)

Direct to conference

38 (4%)

20 (3.6%)

18 (4.5%)

Wage deduction

193 (19%)

130 (22%)

63 (15%)

Budget/offering

335 (32%)

192 (32%)

143 (33%)

SS Offering

280 (27%)

173 (29%)

107 (25%)

Adra

213 (21%)

118 (20%)

95 (22%)

Red Cross etc

132 (13%)

65 (11%)

67 (16%)

Mission

71 (7%)

39 (6.5%)

32 (7.5%)

Youth Volunteer

60 (6%)

30 (5%)

30 (7%)

Independent Ministry

36 (4%)

24 (4%)

12 (3%)

No. answering 2

1028

599

429

That there is a dramatic difference in tithe-returning behaviour between those who are under or over 50 has been reported in an earlier article.3   What is striking about the answers to this question is that there is little age-related difference.  By far the majority of Adventists of all ages who tithe, direct their tithe through the tithe envelopes made available in local Adventist Churches.  This is then sent to the local conference.  On the other hand, about 1/3 of all tithers are not using the tithe envelopes.  Instead they are giving directly to various causes - most of them internal to the Church, but not all. 

Disadvantages of Centralizing Tithe

At beginning of the widespread adoption by Seventh-day Adventists of the practice of tithing, tithe was centralized at conferences, and this has been the policy of the Church since that time.  This policy has had significant advantages for the Church, but these advantages need to be balanced against the disadvantages of such practice.  In this article we will look at both the advantages and  disadvantages of centralizing tithe, beginning with the negative consequences.

The first negative consequence of centralized tithing is that putting tithe in an envelope is rather like putting it into a black hole.  It is hard for the giver to see what the funds are used for.  In Old Testament times, the one who brought tithe sat down and ate it with the priests (Deut 14:22-29).  They could see with their own eyes that if they didn't bring the tithe, the priests would not eat that day.  While most modern Adventist have a vague notion that their tithe is used to cover their ministers wages, they are very ill-informed about what is actually done with the tithe by the Church.  One of the most frequent complaints that we have from those who are filling out our questionnaire, is that they cannot answer the question, "The Conference uses the tithe it receives wisely" because they do not know what the conference does with the tithe it receives.

Another negative consequence is that centralizing tithe means that local churches are left relatively under-funded.  Seventh-day Adventists are generous givers to their church. Yet for most Adventists, the bulk of their giving is tithe, and this tithe is taken out of the local church for centralized distribution.  A good part of it, of course, returns to the local church in the form of the wages used to support their local minister.  For some smaller churches these wages are significantly more than the tithe contributed.  Yet for most churches, of the total amount of money contributed, only a percentage stays in the church, and the local church is relatively under-funded.

Another further negative consequence of centralizing tithe is that the process of decision making tends to meet the needs of administration and institutions before the needs of local churches.  After all, it is administrators and administrative committees that are making the final distribution.  These committees are made up of those who know well the administrative and financial needs of the conferences, unions, divisions, and general conference and the institutions associated with each level.  These needs are continuous and urgent.  It is always easier to get local pastors to care for more than one church than to shut down an institution.  Mind you, it is not always the administrators that are to blame here.  Throughout the 1990s in Australia, for example, the Division Administrators repeatedly attempted to reduce the number of personnel in support roles by combining conferences.  To date, these proposals have always been defeated by votes from the conference constituencies.

Advantages to Centralizing Tithe

On the other hand, there are some very significant advantages to centralizing tithe.  Let us list a few:

1.  It enables Local Ministers to be Distributed Amongst Churches in the Most Efficient Manner.

This point might be illustrated by comparing what happens in denominations where funds are gathered and spent within the one congregation.  Such congregations hire and pay their own ministers.  So ministers of larger congregations often receive much larger stipends.  On the other hand, what happens to a congregation that does not have the funds to support even one minister?    It can be very hard for such congregations to share a minister with another parish.4  This issue would have great consequences for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Take, for examples, the two conferences that we have analyzed most carefully: North New South Wales and Greater Sydney.  Between them, they have 131  churches and 15 companies.  Under current arrangements, if the tithe given through these churches was made used to employ pastors, we would have the following:

Number of churches that would employ two or more ministers: 6
Number of churches that would employ between 1 and 1 ministers:  13
Number of churches that would employ a ministers:  26
Number of churches which could not employ even minister: 86.
Most of the 15 companies could not afford even a fraction of a minister.

Even if every church became independent and kept almost all their funds within the local congregations,5 perhaps 40 churches would be able to employ at least one minister.  But that would leave 91 churches and 15 companies which would find it very difficult to employ any minister.  Under the current system, the conference uses tithe from stronger churches to support smaller churches.

Of course, it may well make sense to close some smaller congregations, but not all of them, as it would mean withdrawing an Adventist presence from many country towns.  So, from the perspective of staffing churches, it is far better to centralize tithe.  It has a particular advantage for smaller churches who need to share a pastor.  It also allows the church to establish new churches in areas of growing population.

2.  Centralizing Tithe Enables The Church To Support Missions and Outreach Projects More Effectively

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always had an easily defined goal: to take the message of the soon return of Jesus to every human being on the planet.  In other words, mission and evangelism has been at the center of its purpose for existence.  In all regions of the South Pacific Division, significant funds are set aside for outreach, and the support of mission activities which would not be possible without centralized tithing.

3.  Centralizing Tithe Enables the Church to Support Important Institutions

The church in the South Pacific Division supports a large education system, including three tertiary institutions (Avondale College, Pacific Adventist University, and Fulton College).  It runs hospitals and publishing houses.  It supports counseling centers, and an extensive world-wide development program through ADRA.  All these institutions were started by the church because they contributed to its overall mission.  None of this would have been possible without centralized planning and finance. 

What is Done with the Tithe Received by the Church?

What is done with tithe varies with each conference/mission in the South Pacific Division.  Rather than try and give one "generic conference," perhaps it would be a good idea to provide two examples of specific conferences/missions.  The first, North New South Wales (NNSW), is one of the larger conferences in Australia.  The second, Madang-Manus Mission, is found in Papua New Guinea.6

These two pie charts illustrate that the largest proportion of tithe is used to support ministers in local churches.  The next most significant expenditure is in the local conference.  After that there are differences.  Less is spent directly on Education in NNSW because the Australian government provides significant funds to the Adventist school system, but in Papua New Guinea the school system is run independently of government funds.

The significant funds directed at the Union and Division was used for a variety of purposes.  For example, in 2001, 44% of the Division Budget will been used for the support of the Island fields.7  A percentage of funds is forwarded to the the General Conference.8 Other significant expenditures found in Union and Division budgets include the support of Avondale College and Pacific Adventist University, the support of weaker conferences through tithe equalization, the support of the Bible School attached to the Media Center, as well as funds allocated to evangelism, ministerial interns, work amongst the Australian Aboriginals and Torres Straight Islanders, overseas study programs, subsidies for Literature Evangelists, and many other things.

Looking over this distribution of money gives a small glimpse into the complex organization that is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and we must say that the funds are used for very worthwhile purposes.

Summing Up

On balance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has benefited enormously from the fact that it centralizes its tithe.  While not without its problems, this has enabled it to fulfill its world-wide mission in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.  While we understand the urge to place money in causes where one can see more directly what is done with the funds, we still think that it important that tithe continue to be directed through to the conferences/missions either directly, or through the tithe envelopes in the local church offerings.

 

Footnotes

1 Our research began as an initiative of the North New South Wales Conference of Seventh-day Adventists executive committee, under the direction of a research group consisting of Rob McIver (Avondale College), Steve Currow (Avondale College), Peter Colquhoun (president, NNSW), and Hank Penola (Secretary Treasurer NNSW).  At the time of writing, Hank has been replaced by Bob Dale (Secretary NNSW Conference) and Graeme Moffitt (Treasurer NNSW Conference).  This year our research has widened to include Greater Sydney Conference where the research is conducted under the direction of a research group consisting of Rob McIver, Steve Currow, Eric Howse (Treasurer GSyd) and Roger Govender (Stewardship Director GSyd).  The point at debate concerning question B2 in both research groups was whether or not the question gave legitimacy to the "diversion" of tithe away from official church channels.  It was finally decided to include the question to find out what were current perceptions amongst Church members.  B2 has proved to be one of the very important questions in the questionnaire.

2 There are slightly different totals for the items "tithe directly to church treasurers" and "tithe directly to conference" (these options were only available on the last 957 surveys).

3 Robert K. McIver & Stephen J. Currow, "Is the Church Facing a Financial Crisis?" Record June 9, 2001, pp. 8-10.

4 In many denominations which do not centralise financial resources (i.e. who adopt a congregationalist model), there are significant problems in sharing a minister between small congregations.  This is discussed at length in Anthony Pappas, Money, Motivation and Mission in the Small Church (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1989), 77-91.  Many such congregations just do without a minister for a number of years so that they can accumulate funds to employ one for a few years.

5 Even if the Adventist church closed all institutions and administrative offices, it would still not be possible to keep all funds within a local congregation.  It has substantial obligations to retired pastors, for example.

6 Both these charts relate to actual expenditure.  Most of the funds spent derive from tithe in one way or another.  My thanks to Graeme Moffitt, treasurer of the NNSW Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for his help in ensuring the accuracy of the accompanying pie chart for NNSW, and Harvey Carlson from the Papua New Guinea Union Mission for help ensuring the accuracy of the Madang-Manus Mission pie chart.  Madang-Manus, like other mission conferences, send 10% of tithe to the Union Conference and 10% to the South Pacific Division.  It receives a significant amount back through a scheme of tithe-equalization by which conferences with less financial resources are supported by funds from conferences which are relatively better off.  It is instructive to compare these pie charts with the analysis of the tithe use in the Greater Sydney Conference provided by Walter H. Simmonds, in his article, "How is the Tithe Dollar Spent?" Adventist Professional 1/3 (Sept 1989) 21-25.

7 This figure was cited by the Division Treasurer, Rod Brady, on 21 June, 2001, at a Division-wide meeting of stewardship directors.

8 In the past, 1% of the tithe from the South Pacific Division was forwarded to the General Conference.  This has recently changed to 2%.

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